Design

The Pixel XL, designed by Google and quietly manufactured by HTC, uses an aluminum unibody construction with a thin metallic mid-frame, giving it decent stiffness in torsion and bending. Radiused corners and curved edges around the back make the XL comfortable to hold; however, it feels rather top heavy, which makes it want to tip out of your hand when holding it in portrait mode. 

Google stated that a flush-mounted rear camera was one of its design goals; it did not want a camera hump jutting out from the back. It accomplished this by placing the rear camera in the upper bezel above the display assembly and then tapering the phone’s thickness from 8.5mm at the top down to 7.3mm at the bottom. This tapered profile contributes to the phone’s imbalance, however. Its battery also sits relatively high, leaving very little in the lower part of the phone to act as a counterweight.

The Pixel XL has a very distinct look from the back, much like its predecessor, the Nexus 6P. There’s a large window cut into the upper portion of the aluminum chassis that’s covered with glass backed by a plastic insert. The partial glass back provides more grip for your fingers than the sandblasted aluminum, but it also attracts more fingerprints. There’s also the possibility that it could crack if dropped. I suspect the decision to add the glass panel was about more than just cosmetics, though. Replacing a chunk of metal with lighter plastic and glass keeps the phone’s top-heavy character in check.

Set into the glass is an extra-large, circular fingerprint sensor. The capacitive, touch-based Pixel Imprint sensor instantly wakes and unlocks the phone, independent of finger orientation. The sensor is subject to the same environmental limitations as all capacitive sensors, but is otherwise very accurate. Given how large the recessed sensor is—it’s the largest I’ve ever seen on a phone—you would think it would be easy to locate; however, my index finger does not naturally fall onto the sensor when I pick up the Pixel XL like it does with the Nexus 6P and most other phones, forcing me to slide my finger around a bit to locate it. My hit rate improved with practice, so this was only a distraction during the first few days.

One thing I do not like about the Pixel and some other phones with rear-mounted fingerprint sensors is there’s no easy way to wake the phone to check notifications when it’s sitting on a table. Having to pick it up or press the power button on the side is less convenient than double tapping the screen or waving a hand over the phone.

The Pixel’s rear camera sits flush with the rear glass in the upper-left corner. There’s a circular dual-LED flash with a slightly raised chrome ring to its left, and a rangefinder for the camera’s laser autofocus and microphone to its right. Despite the glass window, there’s still plastic antenna lines that wrap around the sides and top, along with a traditional antenna strip at the bottom.


The sides of the Pixel are flat with a chamfer around the front glass. The SIM tray is the only feature on the left edge, while the right edge holds a single-piece volume rocker and power button. Both buttons give a nice, solid click when pressed and the power button is textured to give it a different feel.

One of the things I found annoying about the Nexus 6P was how I could not pick up or handle it without accidentally pressing the mushy volume and power buttons, a result of placing the buttons so close together at the midpoint along the edge. Fortunately, this is not an issue with the Pixel XL because the buttons are further apart and positioned closer to the top of the phone.


The Pixel still has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge. Centered on the bottom is a USB Type-C port, which supports USB 3.0 (Superspeed) data transfers, and is flanked by two symmetric slots. The single, downward-firing speaker sits within the left slot, while the right slot hides another microphone.

The front of the Pixel XL is covered edge-to-edge with Gorilla Glass 4. The glass basically sits flush with the sides but still avoids any sharp feeling edges. Unlike the back, the Pixel’s front is rather nondescript and boring. The only remarkable detail is the virtually non-existent black border around the display, which is especially nice for the colors that come with a white front.

A sufficiently large earpiece sits centered above the screen, which conceals a notification light behind its grille in the left corner. The Pixel’s ambient light and proximity sensor module is stacked below the earpiece, a poor design choice that makes the upper bezel needlessly large. Placing the headphone jack at the top means there’s no room for the sensor module between the front-facing camera and earpiece. The internal volume to the right is occupied by the rear-facing camera, flash, laser AF module, and microphone, so no room there either. By relocating the headphone jack to the bottom edge, where there’s plenty of room, Google could have placed the sensor module to the left of the earpiece and reduced the size of the upper bezel and the overall height of the phone.

The Nexus 6P, Moto Z Force, and iPhone 7 Plus all share something in common: They all have smaller lower bezels than the Pixel XL. Unlike the Pixel’s lower bezel, however, which is a featureless expanse, these three phones include a second forward-facing speaker, a square fingerprint sensor, and a large, circular fingerprint sensor, respectively, below their screens. The internal volume behind the lower bezel contains a lot of wasted space, so either Google missed an opportunity to include an additional feature, such as a front-facing speaker or capacitive navigation buttons, or it failed to optimize the Pixel’s internal layout.

The Pixel and Pixel XL come in three different cheekily named colors: Quite Black, Very Silver, or Really Blue. Our Quite Black review unit is more of a “Pretty Dark Gray” with a matching dark gray front bezel, rear glass window, and fingerprint sensor. The Very Silver model comes with a white front and white accents on the back, while the Really Blue also has a white front but matching blue accents around back.

In the end, the Pixel XL is neither the best looking nor best designed flagship phone. It has a distinctive look from the back, and color-matching the fingerprint sensor and antenna lines is a nice touch. The front is pretty plain, however. I’m also not impressed by the internal layout that makes the upper and lower bezels needlessly large and contributes to the phone’s top-heavy, unbalanced feel.

Introduction Display Analysis
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  • andrewaggb - Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - link

    Went phone shopping this past weekend. Everybody was pushing the Pixel pretty hard but honestly I didn't like it.

    Samsung has better screen to body ratio's and I dislike the virtual home button. Open chrome and it takes up a chunk of the screen, on the samsung phones you get text in that area instead. Cameras and screen weren't any better than samsung's either. I'd take an s7 edge over the pixel anyday.

    But I was pleasantly suprised by the LG V20. Unfortunately the only carrier I could find it on doesn't have coverage in my area but the phone itself was pretty nice. Really wide angle selfie-cam (wider fov than my note 5 which already has a wider fov than most phones), nice large screen (that looked good, unlike the g5 that I think has a terrible screen), and the extra 2nd screen at the top for music controls/wifi/clock etc is a nice little touch as well.
    Reply
  • ithehappy - Thursday, November 17, 2016 - link

    This is pretty ridiculous! They are charging same as iPhone and S7E, but they don't give you a great display? Or like you mentioned, the camera even, which is Pixel's main selling point, S7 outperforms it in low light? What the heck is this? I wanted to buy this phone when it cooled down in price a bit, but especially after reading the Display section I think I am out! If OnePlus 3's display is better (more accurate is better in my dictionary) then I would simply go for it, it costs like 70% less too! Jeez!

    That display completely putting me off from this. Really sad.
    Reply
  • syrious - Friday, December 16, 2016 - link

    Yea, you'd be better off with the OnePlus 3 or waiting for a S8, the displays on the sammy phones are phenomenal. Reply
  • AMD718 - Sunday, November 20, 2016 - link

    Reading through the comments, it's apparent to me that you have both Nexus/Pixel advocates and haters. The haters, as expected, are thoroughly delighted by this review as it plays to their confirmation bias. At the same time, the advocates are disheartened because it allows them no confirmation bias. But, let's be honest - The authors are biased as well. This isn't a cut on the authors. It's merely recognition that they are, in fact, human beings and not technology-reviewing robots impervious that remain 100% objective at all times. So, there is subjectivity in this article and people would be well-served in reading many reviews when they are looking for a new device. As an example, the TechSpot Pixel XL review (google it, not putting the link here) rates the Pixel XL's dispaly in sRGB mode as excellent -
    "... in my testing with the Pixel XL in its sRGB mode, this display is the most accurate I have seen. In my punishing custom CALMAN 5 accuracy test, the Pixel XL recorded an astonishing dE2000 value of 1.18, which indicates near-perfect color performance. The Pixel XL also reported near-perfect grayscale accuracy and spot-on gamma."
    Similarly, other reviews offer drastically different assessments of the camera relative to the competition.
    Bottom line, look at this review as one of many resources that you can draw upon to make your own conclusion. AnandTech's review is certainly professional and high-quality, but it is not the end-all-be-all.
    Reply
  • ithehappy - Sunday, November 20, 2016 - link

    Damn! I never heard about this Techspot, but will surely read their review. I really don't know how there could be this massive difference in calibration results when same tool is used, there can't be a human error, so I don't know what to say really! Reply
  • Androider - Sunday, November 27, 2016 - link

    The launcher being evicted from memory is a familiar phenomenon for any Nexus user when you push the device. Happens on my Nexus 7, 5 and 6p. You get a completely black screen for maybe 3-6 seconds while the launcher is either restarted or swapped in. I have no doubt it would happen on the Pixel unless Google has rearchitected the whole thing, which they clearly haven't.

    This is exactly the type of thing you won't find in a few days of testing, but will run into after using the phone for weeks and months. Thank you Anandtech for a thorough, and honest review! Android has a lot going for it, and it is my platform of choice, but you have to be honest about its shortcomings.
    Reply
  • lokesh - Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - link

    I don't agree because still i vote for iPhone 7 than Google Pixel XL. In iphone i can download paid apps with vshare app but i don't know how to download paid apps for free in Google Pixel XL. http://www.vshareappdownloads.com/ Reply
  • Zovuvazz - Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - link

    I recently purchased a Pixel and have three things to say about it:

    1. It is the first Android phone I've ever owned about which I have no complaints. Everything about it works perfectly. It reminds me of iPhones, to some degree, in how polished the interface looks, feels, and works.

    2. The bezel at the bottom is quite useful as an area of the phone in which touching it doesn't accidentally cause something to happen.

    3. Its design is "boring"? Only to attention whores, perhaps.
    Reply
  • syrious - Friday, December 16, 2016 - link

    FINALLY a true review of the Google Pixel phones, people over hype this phone so much. TBH I think its absolute garbage and isn't ready to compete with Sammy or Apple.

    I mean the phone isn't even waterproof, how are you making a device that isn't water resistant in 2016?
    Reply
  • eh_ch - Sunday, January 1, 2017 - link

    This review is lies, the Pixel rocks.

    Crazy fast, smooth scrolling, camera is incredible and this review stole a month of enjoyment of my Pixel from me. I

    hemmed and hawed, and then it was out of stock, so it was another week before it was available again, and then another three weeks to ship.

    Anandtech I love your articles, but the criticisms of Apple fanboyism are ABSOLUTELY correct.
    Reply

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